I moved into my summer apartment last week, and it's a doozy. From the air directly above, I suppose the residential complex looks like any standard subdivision in the U.S. Many cookie-cutter buildings dot the insides of a square subdivision lot, almost exactly like the neighboring complex right to the north. But swooping down from the bird's-eye view you can see that those cookie-cutter buildings are in fact high-rises of some 10-15 stories. And going down even further you find that there are an unbelievable number of shops and businesses on the first floor of each high rise.
In my complex there are quite a few parks, many with exercise equipment for the old folks, a cafe, a sundries story where you can buy jugs of water, and a combination fruit seller/laundromat (?). But that doesn't hold a candle to the bigger and comparatively less shoddy complex to the north. There you'll find a Korean grocer, a bookstore, a musical instrument store, a few cafes, a decent-sized gym with a pool, some real estate brokers, and oh so many massage parlors. I counted seven (seven!) massage parlors on the way home today, the first not that far from the last one, and all within the complex premises. I'm confident that if you stand in the right spot, you can have all seven of them in eyesight. I know Chinese like massages, and they certainly and luckily are cheap, but seven!
Sure, that complex isn't blocked off from outsiders, so non-residents--like me--can easily come and go. But it is a residential complex none the less, and you won't just wander in here from off the main drag. It's baffling to think that just the residents in one complex can support seven (!) nearly identical massage businesses. They and all the other shops seem to be doing well enough. I've only seen one closed business in the complexes so far.
While my two apartment complexes have been around for years, the rest of Beijing is abuzz with brand new, luxury residential development. You can usually tell an apartment's luxurious by the number of times its ads show up in in-flight magazines, and by the word "International" squeezed into its name. I gather "international" must be code-word for dead, because none of them seem to have any of the ground-level stores that ensure that people are out and about, bringing life to the lot. Then again, since complaining about crowds and traffic seems to be the local pastime here, maybe it's worth it to those who can afford it to escape from the throngs, even if it means sacrificing convenience and community along with it.